“It was real loud at first. We all just had to get settled in. I had to audible a lot to communicate to the guys what we were doing. But my teammates helped me a lot, too.” Colin Kaepernick, 49ers quarterback
NEW ORLEANS — Ollie Waguespack of River Ridge considers it a point of pride that he never comes home from a Saints game without having yelled himself hoarse, especially at opposing offenses.
But despite the best effort of Waguespack and most of the rest of the 73,147 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday, they couldn’t rattle a second-year quarterback from Nevada making his second NFL who said the previous most-hostile crowd he’s played before was at Boise State.
Colin Kaepernick threw for 231 yards and one touchdown, ran for 27 and another and finished with a higher quarterback rating than Drew Brees (90.6-86.1)
“He did fairly well, I guess,” Waguespack admitted in the late stages of San Francisco’s 31-21 victory. “I think we got to him a few times in the first half; the second half, not so much.
“That one drive (16 plays, 85 yards and 9:28 off the clock before David Akers’ 27-yard field goal that increased the 49ers’ margin to 10 points with 7:53 left, one that stood until the game), kind of took a lot out of us.”
The Superdome’s reputation for being one of the noisiest places to play in the NFL was supposed to be a big advantage for the Saints on Sunday.
Early on, it was.
Kaepernick, who made his first start for the concussed Alex Smith at home Monday against Chicago, had to call time out one play into his team’s second possession because he couldn’t make his signals understood.
And there were a couple of delay calls later on, plus one false start.
But for the most part, his execution was flawless.
It wasn’t luck.
It was anticipation and preparation.
“We had some louder-than-normal speakers at practice this week,” San Francisco center Jonathan Goodwin said. “We worked on our silent counts more than usual, too.
“For the most part, I think we were able to handle the communication part just fine.”
Goodwin should know about Superdome noise and what it can do to opposing teams. From 2006-10 he was the Saints’ center, so he’s been part of some the loudest nights in Superdome history, such as the NFC Championship Game victory against Minnesota.
So he was able to offer Kaepernick some sound advice.
“I just told him it was a great crowd that stays in the game,” Goodwin said. “And we were playing a team that feeds off that crowd.
“We just had to keep them from going too crazy. But when you keep grinding, eat the clock and put points in the board, it quiets them down.”
Actually, the 49ers have experience with hostile environments.
They play each year at Seattle, including an upcoming game on Dec. 23. Tackle Joe Staley said Sunday that Qwest Field is louder.
“But this is second, along with Minnesota,” Staley said. “But the fans here stay into it no matter what.
“We felt it every single play.”
But Kaepernick handled it.
Along with extra, extra crowd noise, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh stressed everyone getting back into the huddle quickly so there was more time when the offense came to the line.
And when there was confusion early on, Harbaugh had him speed up the tempo even more.
“He did a great of managing the game,” Harbaugh said. “This was a tough environment, and he acquitted himself very well.”
Kaepernick said the game slowed down for him as it went along.
“It was real loud at first,” he said. “We all just had to get settled in,” he said. “I had to audible a lot to communicate to the guys what we were doing. But my teammates helped me a lot, too.”
And it was in more than just pregame tips and in-game encouragement.
San Francisco’s backs and receivers consistently provided extra yards after contact, a point of pride on a team that came in leading the league in rushing yardage (165.5 yards-per-game) although the Niners fell a little short of that on Sunday.
“That’s what you’ve got to do in this league,” running back Frank Gore said. “A lot of the time there’s not going to be a hole, so sometimes you’ve to make a hole.”
But Sunday, the 49ers focus was on Kaepernick, whom Harbaugh said he only told he would be starting ahead of the now-healthy Smith late Saturday night, but whom had been widely seen as the likely starter all week.
If not Lou Gehrig for Wally Pipp, it certainly feels like Tom Brady for Drew Bledsoe.
That move led to the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl in the Superdome, which happens to be the site of this year’s game.
San Francisco receiver Mario Manningham, a member of last season’s New York Giants championship team, said it’s too early to speculate on the Niners’ chances of returning to New Orleans in February.
“We’re not thinking about that,” he said. “We’re just trying to get better.
“We don’t feel like we’re clicking at full speed yet.”
But just in case the 49ers do reach full speed and make it back to the Superdome, their quarterback will know how to handle the noise.